The holiday season.
The time of year when we all use-or-lose our meagre remaining vacation time on our self-imposed commitments to family. I’m sure that there are people reading this who really do both expect and receive the cheer that commercialized stereotypes have led us to expect, but for others this time of year is somewhere between mildly unpleasant and hell on earth.
As a child growing up in an industrial English town within a C of E lower middle class family, Christmas was officially the Best Thing Ever. Too much turkey, annoying the grandparents by deciding that the huge box their present arrived in was really the Eagle, about to land on the Moon for the first time. The buttons I drew on the cardboard didn’t really fire the landing thrusters, but that didn’t matter to me. Christmas was Awesome, and Santa was Definitely Better than Batman. It was a time filled with grandparents, cousins, visits from the Scottish branch of the family, snowball fights and, best of all, no school for a couple of weeks.
As I got older, Christmas wasn’t quite all that it once was, of course. Once I accepted Santa-as-abstraction, a virtual being with no physical realization other than the bits-of-well-meaning family that allowed him to exist by borrowing their consciousness occasionally in the latter part of the year, the shiny image corroded a little. The glass baubles broke too easily, just as likely to cut me as fascinate me. Family spread out, the older members taken by time over the rainbow bridge, the younger by ambition and need to get out of the home town. I was one of them, moving to the other end of the country once I had the societal permission that Going Away to University afforded to those willing to abandon their roots.
Christmas had already eroded due to my lack of attention, but ultimately shattered into pieces when, in 1993, I came out as something significantly other than straight. My parents took it hard, but came back on side after a while. My grandparents were surprisingly supportive right from the start, though I found out later that this had come at a horrible price. One of those Christmas cousins took their own life a few years previously. My grandfather found the body – carbon monoxide poisoning. This had, at the time, shocked me to the core, because Things Like That didn’t happen to nice families like ours. I was told at the time that my cousin had had money problems. I felt awful – though I wasn’t rich, I’m sure I could have helped somehow, but didn’t know until it was too late. After my coming-out, however, my grandmother confessed to a substantial lie. My cousin was transgendered. I never knew. She took her own life because her own family were horrible to her. In confessing to me, my grandparents accepted that they had been partly responsible for her death. Consequently, they were never less than supportive of me.
The other cousins dropped me cold, other than one of the Scots who sadly passed on herself a few years ago. My Christmas family shrunk overnight from an extended network to just six people, four grandparents and two parents. Time has since claimed all but my parents, who live in another country on the other side of the world. We still talk, but not as often as we once did. I can’t really afford to travel there, they can’t come here. My Christmas blood family has shrunk to just me.
I’ve been luckier than my transgendered cousin, of course. I’ve always had friends, I’ve usually had love, so I’ve made my own family. As I lost my original religion, Christmas became Chinese food and a movie, then years later finding Pagan community Yule happened sometimes. I have made my peace with this, but it is perhaps much more visible from my perspective as an outsider that my original view of the holiday season still is many people’s subjective reality, modulo a tacky pair of antler deely-bobbers. Consequently, the estranged black-sheep-of-their-families like me often find their intentional communities disappearing on them right at a time when work stops and they have nothing better to do than think about the way things were Before, back in the idealized Hallmark holidays. This is the absolute zero of being left out in the cold. This is why so many of us end their lives at this time of the year.
I have plans for the holidays, and a wife with a huge family who for some bizarre reason seem to actively like me. I’m OK. I don’t forget, though, that I’ve had times when I wished the calendar went directly from Halloween to January. So, in planning your holiday antics, I’d like to ask you all to look around you. Most of you know someone who is going to be left in their own personal cold place this year. Most of you probably have enough room at the table for one more, if you think to ask.
An it harm none, do as ye will.
Compassion is all.